Over the course of 17 days, Marines fighting at North Korea’s Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War put out a call for “Tootsie Rolls,” their code for 60mm mortar rounds. When supplies were finally airdropped to them on the ground, they opened the crates to find… candy. Thousands of actual Tootsie Rolls.
The Marines were surrounded and outnumbered by Chinese and North Korean troops as much as 10-to-1. Temperatures fell as low as 30 to 40 degrees below zero; Jeep batteries cracked, weapons wouldn’t cycle, and foul weather inhibited resupply missions. You might imagine how pissed off the Marines were to find candy where their mortar rounds should have been… and you’d be wrong.
Since the bitter cold also froze the Marines’ C-rations, Tootsie Rolls became an easy source of calories. The small chocolates were also easy to warm up and reform, so the Marines would use them to plug bullet holes in Jeeps, barrels, and other materials. The candies would quickly freeze solid again, and the materiel was ready for use.
The Tootsie Rolls absolutely reinvigorated the 1st Marine Division. Marines are known for their ability to “make do” and the Tootsie Roll airdrop was no exception. Chairman Mao ordered the complete annihilation of the Marines at Chosin, but like Popeye the Sailor and his spinach, United States Marines fueled by small candies wiped the frozen Siberian tundra with 120,000 Chinese Communists.
To this day, when the Chosin Few have reunions, the Tootsie Roll Company sends boxes to them, wherever they are.
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